Casa Dolce Casa
Home Sweet Home
The Italian language doesn’t distinguish between “house” and “home.” A casa is always a casa, whether it’s un appartamento in a palazzino or condominio (apartment/condo building), a villa, a casetta (cottage), a casa di campagna ( country house) or a casa al mare (beach house). But not all houses are homes. You wouldn’t want to live in a casa di correzione (reformatory), a casa editrice (publishing house), or a casa di moda (fashion house), although you may end up in a casa di riposo (nursing home).
The first time my family decided to affittare una casa (rent a house), we began to sentirsi a casa in Italia (feel at home in Italy). We also discovered a whole new world -- and the vocabulary to go with it. Happy to stare a casa (be at home) and become an Italian donna di casa (woman of the house), I wandered from room to room (di camera in camera or di stanza in stanza), saying the name of each aloud: il soggiorno (living room), la cucina (kitchen), la sala da pranzo (dining room), la camera da letto (bedroom), il bagno (bathroom).
Each stanza had pareti (walls), finestre (windows), a soffitto (ceiling), a pavimento (floor), and a porta (door). La porta d’ingresso (entrance door) opened onto un atrio (a hall) where una scala (staircase) led to a balcone (balcony) with una bella vista (a nice view).
Tutta casa e famiglia (a stay-at-home type), I learned the words for furniture by sitting on a sedia (chair), reading in the poltrona (armchair) by the lampada (lamp), lying on the letto (bed), and putting clothes in a cassettiera (dresser). In the cucina, ho fatto da mangiare (made food to eat) alla casalinga (in a homestyle or housewife’s way). In the bagno, I combed my hair while looking in the specchio (mirror) and washed my face in a lavandino or lavabo (sink).
Other words I acquired the hard way: serratura (lock) when I lost the chiave (key); tubo di scarico (drain) when it was otturato (blocked), scaldabagno (water heater) when it non funzionava (wasn’t working)
Casa makes itself at home in various Italian proverbs, such as non sapere neanche dove stia di casa (not to know even where you’re from, or not to know anything). A casa del ladro non si ruba. (Thieves don’t steal at home, or there’s honor among thieves). A casa mia non si fa. (You don’t do that at my house, or that isn’t the thing to do.)
“Fai come se fossi a casa tua.” (“Do as if you were at your house.”) I say to guests. And when I’m a guest, I’m always touched when my host says that I am “di casa” (of the house or one of the family).
Words and Expressions
amico di casa -- friend of the family
casa di salute -- nursing home
faccende di casa -- household matters
stare in casa -- stay at home
fatto in casa -- home-made
Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.